Little did Alex Abell know that a new option he was making available to clients of Lunchpool would provide an important way for people to connect amid restrictions such as those related to the coronavirus.
The start-up that we spotlighted in this December 2019 feature on teknovation.biz is focused on helping its early B2B clients and their employees build stronger connections in the workplace over shared food, drink or exercise.
“From the very start, Lunchpool was designed to relieve a pain point – the feelings of isolation and disconnectedness that are becoming more and more prevalent in today’s digital age,” Abell reminded us when we caught-up this week. “With that mission in mind, we started-off by building a digital-first platform to facilitate offline, face-to-face meetings between employees over food and drink. These micro interactions are the catalyst to the types of authentic connection that help a workplace thrive. There’s no substitute for a watercooler chat or a great lunch break conversation with a new coworker.”
As the company explored how it might also account for a company’s remote employees, the Lunchpool team stumbled upon an entirely new market segment with a pressing need for social interaction – freelancers and work-from-home professionals.
“With professionals migrating to this type of work, new types of social isolation are being introduced,” Abell added. “Leaving my corporate job to pursue the startup full-time, I knew I needed to attend luncheons and networking events to build the connections that would make my startup take off. That idea was the initial catalyst that started Lunchpool in the first place. However, like many others, I experienced the difficulties and frustrations of trying to make it out to in-person meetups, networking events and even the informal lunch meetings (lunchpools) I was putting together as the core of our business.”
Customer discovery is a fundamental principle that entrepreneurs learn quickly if they are successful, so Abell says he and the team started testing some technology to conduct “virtual lunch breaks” when the need surfaced. Lunchpool held an initial test in early January. and invited the public to attend their “Break Tampa Bay” virtual networking event.
“It went better than anyone on my team ever expected,” Abell says. “We were able to not only connect local area professionals together, but we also highlighted some really awesome sponsors and non-profit community partners like Feeding Tampa Bay and Best Buddies Florida.”
More than 100 individuals participated, and one of the event sponsors met a person who was located less than a mile away from the sponsor’s location. They now have a business relationship.
After the very positive response to the January event, Abell says Lunchpool will be adding the ability to supplement the in-person gatherings with these virtual lunch breaks – giving users the option to connect with one another via their preferred channel. “We’re still finalizing the name of the Lunchpool Virtual Events platform, (so it’s) simply codenamed Lunchpool BREAKS at this point,” he said.
But, as the late Paul Harvey used to say is his daily radio commentary, “You know what the news is – in a minute, you’re going to hear the rest of the story.” What is it, you might ask? It is the attention that Abell and the team have gotten since the coronavirus panic started increasing the need for a solution like the one they put together for the “Break Tampa Bay” virtual lunch break.
As concerns about large gatherings of people continue to increase due to government mandates and public health advisories, Abell’s phone has started ringing on a much more frequent basis. He says people are asking about how Lunchpool did what it did and wanting to know if the start-up could help their organization do something similar.
“The current health crisis presents new challenges for in-person event organizers,” he said. “Huge conferences like SXSW (“South by Southwest”) have been canceled. Long-planned chamber events and developer meet-ups are being postponed or removed from the calendar altogether. It’s a huge economic pain point, and we have received an astonishing number of messages from event organizers in the last couple of weeks inquiring how we could help virtualize their events.”
Abell says Lunchpool will be integrating virtual events into its own offerings in the Tampa Bay area and hopes to extend the platform to organizers in Knoxville and other cities as well. He’s located in Knoxville, while his Co-Founder recently relocated to Orlando, so they are well-positioned to execute quickly in those locations.
As far as the impact he and the Lunchpool team hope to have, Abell says “it’s more important than ever that we don’t let things come to a screeching halt. We have a huge opportunity to explore technologies that will bring us together like never before. The human connections and relationships we can build are ultimately what will pull us through.”